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Refinery29: I’m A Mom Who Brought My Baby To A Political Event — Here’s How It Changed My Life

August 9, 2016

Refinery29: I’m A Mom Who Brought My Baby To A Political Event — Here’s How It Changed My Life

by Lisa Blunt Rochester

The recent controversy over Donald Trump ordering a mother to get her crying baby out of one of his rallies got me thinking about when I was a young woman balancing graduate school and motherhood. I was often out in my community with my baby on my hip. And when I had the opportunity to go to a town hall meeting my congressman was hosting, I took my then 18-month-old son Alex along with me. 

After the town hall ended, I had some more questions to ask. With Alex in my arms, I went up and talked to then-Congressman Tom Carper about the issues our state of Delaware was facing. He suggested I apply for an internship in his office, and that led to a job as a constituent caseworker. This was the beginning of my lifelong career in public service. But if Alex had gotten fussy during that town hall meeting and the leader I had come to hear had shouted at us and kicked us out, my life might look very different today.

Right before my interview for that internship in my congressman’s office, I found out that my son would soon be a big brother. It wasn’t easy to start a new career while pregnant, but I was lucky to work in an environment where I was valued and supported. Our chief of staff even helped me pick a beautiful name for my daughter, Alyssa, before she was born. Since then, I have served in a number of Cabinet positions and as our state’s first African-American woman secretary of labor.

My personal experience as a working mom has made me a better public servant. As secretary of labor, I made sure we created child-friendly spaces in the Delaware Unemployment Office. When someone suggested this was inappropriate, I gave them a reality check: Quality child care is beyond the reach of families facing tough times — and this small change had the power to help parents access the resources they needed to find a job and provide for their families.

My son and my daughter are all grown up now, but I still vividly recall the challenges we faced together when they were small. And, when I’m out on the campaign trail and women across Delaware — some of them with their babies in their arms or on their hips — tell me that they’re struggling, I understand because I’ve been in their shoes. 

Rochester with both of her kids, Lex and Alyssa, when they graduated from college.
We need more leaders who know that "women’s issues" are economic issues. True leaders include mothers in conversations about policies that affect them and their families — and they don’t take it personally when those conversations are occasionally punctuated by a crying baby.

These family values show just how out of touch Trump is with working families today. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 40%
of all households with children under 18 include women who are either the primary or co-breadwinners — yet according to the White House, in 2014, the typical woman working full-time earned just 79% of what the typical man working full-time earned. 

Few mothers can afford to stay home with their young children, but staying in the workforce comes at a high cost, too: The average cost of child care in this country is over $18,000 per child per year, and it’s even higher for infant care. But how can Donald Trump even begin to understand these problems if he can’t tolerate the presence of a fussy baby for just one minute?

There is nothing controversial about mothers of young children continuing to participate fully in community life and in our democracy. When the babysitter cancels at the last minute, or something urgent comes up and a sitter isn’t available on short notice, or — as all too many families know firsthand — when there’s just not enough money left for child care at the end of the month, sometimes a mother is left with little choice but to bring her baby with her wherever she needs to go. 

Anyone who is incapable of accepting that fact has no business serving in public office. Women and families deserve to have their perspectives represented by elected leaders who respect them and believe they are worthy of dignity — not candidates who try to silence and marginalize them. With the stakes for our country so high, we can’t have it any other way.